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HomeNewsElectionsRating Change: Mississippi Senate Race Primary Now Toss-Up

Rating Change: Mississippi Senate Race Primary Now Toss-Up

Incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran (left) and state Sen. Chris McDaniel (right) (Photo: AP)

The Mississippi Senate race is the ninth article in a succession of articles offering expanded analysis on the ratings for the PPD 2014 Senate Map. Sen. Thad Cochran is emerging as one of — if the most — endangered incumbent Republican senators who may not win his party’s nomination.

Thus far, I have released expanded analysis for the following Senate races:

AlaskaArkansasIowaKentuckyLouisianaMichiganMontana, and North Carolina, with West Virginia — which is rated “Safe Republican” on the 2014 Senate Map — soon to be released as the tenth article.

Republican Sen. Thad Cochran has decided he’s running in 2014. The 76-year old, six-term senator is the second-longest serving Republican in the upper chamber and if you include the years he served in the House, then he has been in Washington for 40 years. In this year’s anti-establishment climate, his 40-year “service,” means he will have to defend his seat against a challenge to his right flank.

The single-most serious challenger in the Mississippi Senate race for Sen. Thad Cochran is state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who has the backing of several influential groups, including Senate Conservatives Fund, the FreedomWorks PAC, the Madison Project, and Club for Growth. Meanwhile, the 76-year-old Cochran — who most assuredly won’t be knocking on doors —  hasn’t been raising money aggressively, at all. At the end of the third quarter, his war chest reported just over $800,000 in the bank.

Perhaps, because he hasn’t had a competitive race in 30 years, he didn’t believe he was vulnerable. However, the Club for Growth, Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project launched TV and radio ads early in Mississippi to help raise McDaniel’s name recognition.

There are other challengers lining up, as well. Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, state Auditor Stacey Pickering and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, all join state Sen. Chris McDaniel as potential challengers to Senator Cochran.

Typically, pork is a losing argument in the state, believe it or not, thus conventional wisdom would hold the only viable strategy would have to harp on those 40 years. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that will hold true this time around.

“There are some in the conservative coalition that will be working hard for Chris McDaniel,” said Pat Bruce, head of the Madison County Conservative Coalition, who refused to take sides. “But then others will be working for Sen. Cochran because of what he’s done for us over the years.”

Dean Clancey, FreedomWorks vice-president for public policy, holds a very different view of the Mississippi Senate race. “Voters are no longer looking for a new bridge or highway, which is Senator Cochran’s specialty.”

We are limited on polling in the state to reference, which would be useful to determine whose statement holds against scrutiny. However, polling on the Mississippi Senate race has been conducted by Gravis Marketing, which is rated high for past accuracy in our model used to make prediction for the PPD 2014 Senate Map. According to a Gravis Marketing poll conducted in mid-December, just 39 percent said they approved of the job Cochran was doing and 40 percent said they were undecided, with 22 percent saying they disapprove.

mississippi senate race

The good news for Cochran is that many primary voters are undecided regarding how they feel about their senator overall, but in a head-to-head matchup against McDaniel, it looks much worse.

Both men are polling at 40 percent, though Cochran has a slight, statistically insignificant edge if the numbers aren’t rounded. However, even against a generic Tea Party candidate, Cochran leads with just 45 percent support. “Cochran is virtually tied with McDaniel, and he is again under the 50 percent threshold when running in a generic run against a Tea Party candidate,” said Doug Kaplan, president of Gravis Marketing.

Mississippi senate race

That 50 percent threshold is crucial, which Cochran cannot even claim to be close to achieving. A PPP survey in November also found that 55 percent of GOP primary voters said they would prefer a “more conservative” alternative to Cochran, while just 35 percent said they support the incumbent Senator.

I suspect name recognition accounts for some of the disparity in performance between McDaniel and a generic Tea Party candidate, but it is the McDaniel organization that will likely be the game-changer if he ends up defeating Cochran in the primary.

While Cochran decided to lay low, both before and after he made his decision to run again, the insurgent candidate McDaniel expanded his organization, opening offices and hiring even more campaign staff following Cochran’s announcement that he would run for reelection.

Looking at the latest move by Cochran, himself, tells us where he thinks he has found himself in the Mississippi Senate race. Cochran hired a new campaign manager, Kirk Sims. Sims is the son-in-law of Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who just left his job as Mississippi Gov. D. Phillip Bryant’s chief of staff in order to head-up the campaign.

McDaniel and his allies, however, seem to have a pretty good grasp on just how much the dividends from a good ground game can pay off. Easton Randall, the government affairs manager at FreedomWorks, says it is too little too late for Cochran, and he may be right.

“Yet despite all their best efforts, McDaniel is tied with the incumbent after only a few months on the campaign trail. This is proof that a united grassroots can make a difference. The grassroots matter,” he said.

On the other end of the political spectrum, State Attorney General Jim Hood is the only Democrat who has the stature to cause a problem, but that was when there was a potential for this to be a race for an open seat, and before ObamaCare fell on its face. Former Democratic Rep. Travis Childers is considering a bid, which some Democrats say they are hopeful for, though he did say he was “less apt” to run if Cochran ran.

But in a state Mitt Romney won by more than 10 points in 2012 and Childers suffered a 14-point defeat in 2010, reality doesn’t fit the liberal media narrative. Shocking, I know. Furthermore, from 2010 to 2014, the Partisan Voting Index (Cook PVI) moved from R+10 to R+9, well within “Safe Republican” territory, with all things being considered.

The primary, on the other hand, is now rated a “Toss-Up” on the PPD 2014 Senate Map. Political scientist Marvin P. King Jr., a political science professor at the University of Mississippi, said he believes the primary race is the biggest fight of Cochran’s political career. I am very inclined to agree.

View Polling Graphs Below Or Return To PPD 2014 Senate Map

General Sentiment Of The Electorate:

mississippi senate race

A Vital Question For A Republican Primary In The South:

mississippi senate race

Support For Drug Tests For Welfare Gauges The Ideological Direction Of Republican Primary Voters:

Mississippi senate race

Written by

Rich, the People's Pundit, is the Data Journalism Editor at PPD and Director of the PPD Election Projection Model. He is also the Director of Big Data Poll, and author of "Our Virtuous Republic: The Forgotten Clause in the American Social Contract."

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